By Pilar Barrio Sanchez

Remember what a rivalry used to look like before the pandemic?  

Charleston faced off against Mattoon in volleyball action Wednesday night.

The game had everything you can expect from a rivalry game: engaged student sections, a senior night, a close game, individual achievements and, most importantly, a great fundraiser for a good cause. 

But let’s take it one step at a time.  

Mattoon and Charleston raised a combined $3,852 for Sarah Bush Lincoln’s cancer center in this annual Volley for a Cure game.  

“I just love it! Both of my parents had to go through the cancer center within the last three years so it’s a very personal thing for me,” said Mattoon co-coach Lori Morton. “The fact that the girls from both Charleston and Mattoon did such a great job to raise money for that cause, it’s awesome. We feel that we are giving back to the community.” 

For this game, which last was played at EIU’s Lantz Arena, both teams wore special pink jerseys to support the cause. 

“The kids, the community, all came together for a really great fundraiser, we are just glad to be part of that, and, hopefully, we can help the cause,” said Charleston coach Steve Pamperin. 

The community embraced the cause, which attracted more fans than usual thanks to revised state mandates. In addition, Charleston also honored its five seniors – Sydney Bennett, Katarina Blase, Hannah Buescher, Ashlynn McPeak, Mariah Weiss, creating a celebratory atmosphere that would last throughout the game.  

After the ceremonies, Charleston quickly took charge of the varsity match, going on a 16-3 run. Everything seemed to be working for Charleston behind Blasé, who finished the game with 11 kills, 3 block assists and 3 digs and Makenzie Pamperin, who had 14 kills and 6 digs.   

After that 16-3 run, the Green Wave scored seven more points, including a 3-0 run at the end of the set, before losing 25-10. Averie Simth who finished with 5 kills, 1 block and 1 dig was a constant threat. 

The momentum shifted quickly in the second match.

Mattoon started the second set with a 7-3 run, which got both benches engaged.

“I think sometimes they just need to be told that we believe in them and they need to believe in each other,” Morton said. “At the last several games, we have had a slow start and then we start getting fired up about halfway through. They just need to believe from the beginning, and I think we will get some wins.” 

It was at that point where the atmosphere changed, both benches and student-sections started cheering. 

“It feels extra special because we haven’t been able to play for so long. Our team has been quarantined for two weeks so that made it even better to get back in the action,” Morton said. “Then when you add fans from both teams competing against each other and the parents that have done so great, it’s electrifying. It’s exciting.” 

Charleston reacts to its first-set win Wednesday night. (Photo/Mike Moore, Moore Sports Photography)

The players also enjoyed the crowd. Blase played two rivalry games during in the basketball season but with fewer people in attendance. 

“It actually felt like normal again because we had all our fans here,” Blasé said. “All the energy was up and we were all excited and were able to come out with a lot of energy.” 

After the timeout, Charleston responded. Alycia Triplett had two kills, Ashlynn McPeak had three and Blasé had both a kill and a block to help Charleston tie the score at 16.  

“It was great because this game probably had the most energy as far as fans for both Mattoon and Charleston, and it was interesting because our girls hadn’t faced that kind of crowd noise in a long and were able to get through that,” Pamperin said. “It was great to see a lot of fans support today.” 

The Green Wave were not demoralized by the Trojans’ comeback and, just when it looked like Charleston would take the lead, Mattoon went on a 7-1 run paced by three kills from Emilee Kuhn to go ahead, 23-17.  

“When we take care of the ball, when we serve aggressively and well, we can run a whole lot of offense,” Pamperin said. “Really, what we talked about is to get everybody to calm down, play the game of volleyball that they know and just focus on what is in hand and not about what is around them.” 

At that point, Charleston (14-4) needed a stop to be able to win the second set. The Trojans responded by going on a 4-0 run to make it 23-21. 

Kuhn then was able to chip Charleston’s defense to get to a match-point situation.  

But the Trojans made the stop, going on another 4-0 run to get their first lead of the set after Blasé flicked a ball on to Mattoon’s side. 

With Charleston ahead 25-24, the Green Wave were not able to prevent a kill from Blasé that won the set and match – and which gave Pamperin his 100th career win.

“I knew that if we played our game on our side we would be fine,” said Blase. “I was just trying to keep the ball in place so we could get our said so, hopefully, they could send a free ball in and we would execute out of that.”